How Fascism Works

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini
German dictator Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini were the architects of fascism and the all-powerful State. Wikimedia/Used Under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License

In 1922, Benito Mussolini gained control of Italy and introduced the world to fascism, a political philosophy that eventually brought the world to war. Mussolini didn't invent the idea of fascism, but he coined the term and defined it. In 1932, Mussolini wrote that fascism "believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of peace" [source: Fordham].

In fascism, the State is all that matters, and constant conquest — war — is a necessity for the glory of that State. The glory of the people comes by extension. "War alone," wrote Mussolini, "brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it" [source: Fordham].

"Fascism" is a word thrown around a lot these days. Yale philosopher Jason Stanley wrote a book pointing out similarities between historical fascists and U.S. President Donald Trump. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned in 2018 that fascism around the world now is a bigger threat to peace than at any time since the end of World War II.

Some use the term to describe any authoritarian person or government, especially one that rules by violent means. But authoritarianism is only part of the philosophy. Communism under Joseph Stalin was authoritarian and extraordinarily violent, but fascism, with its distinction between classes, stands in direct opposition to communism. Fascism embodies a philosophy of extremism that seems foreign to modern values but in fact still exists today in pockets around the world.

In this article, we'll look closely at fascism, find out what the term really means and how the ideology has been used to unite nations and divide the world. We'll also see what conditions must exist for fascism to seem appealing: What does it take for millions of individuals to support a philosophy that explicitly negates their personal value?